- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Embracing President Obama’s plan to extend only some of the Bush-era tax cuts, Senate Democrats on Wednesday passed a bill that would mean stable income tax rates for most Americans but a sizable increase for the wealthiest.

The 51-48 vote rang somewhat hollow though, because the bill has no chance of succeeding in the Republican-controlled House, but it marks at least a temporary victory for Mr. Obama, who has made this tax policy a cornerstone of his re-election campaign, saying it’s the right way to balance a still-sluggish economy.

During the dramatic vote, Vice President Joseph R. Biden took the chair to preside over the debate — a rare instance in which Republicans have allowed a bill to pass with fewer than the 60 votes usually needed to overcome a filibuster.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called the vote a “watershed moment in the tax cut debate.”

“For 30 years, Republicans have owned the tax issue. They have conflated, thrown together, middle-class tax cuts and tax cuts on the wealthy,” he said. “But the bill on the floor today that was passed breaks that vise. It says the middle class needs tax cuts but the highest-income people, instead of getting a tax cut, [should help] reduce the deficit.”

Minutes earlier, the chamber rejected the Republicans’ proposal, which would have extended all Bush-era income tax rates, including those for the richest. It was defeated by a vote of 54-45.

Four lawmakers — Republicans Susan M. Collins of Maine and Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut — voted against both proposals, while one Democrat Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, voted for both plans. The voting was otherwise entirely party-line.

The Democrat plan would cost about $250 billion, while the price tag of the GOP proposal was estimated at $405 billion. Both measures go beyond just income tax rates to include other expiring tax cuts, such as the estate tax in the Republican proposal, and the child tax-credit in Democrats’ version.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, had wanted another vote on the tax plan Mr. Obama proposed earlier this year, which would have applied chiefly to income tax rates. The move was intended to force vulnerable Democrats who are up for re-election into a political embarrassing corner. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, rejected the request.

Regardless of the tallies, each side will use the votes as messaging points during the fall elections.

Democrats say under their plan, tax increases would apply only to 2 percent of the country, and argued they are wealthy enough to afford it.

But Republicans say no one should be saddled with a tax increase in the sluggish economy and that the Democrats’ plan would hit nearly 1 million small businesses who pay their taxes through the individual tax code.

“It seems clear what the agenda of the Senate should be. We should be focused like hawks on preventing taxmageddon,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and author of the GOP plan.

Mr. McConnell accused the Democratic leaders of playing games with the vote, calling their proposal a “uniquely bad idea.”

“We know this is not about the economy. This is about the election,” he said.

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